For 150 years, St. Benedict’s Catholic Church in Avon has been a fundamental building for its parishioners. Not only is it a place for worship, but it is also a place to celebrate life, and create and build relationships with one another.

“We have a lot of people who are active in many different things here,” said parish member Jim Gondringer. “We have 450 families in the parish right now, many of them are younger.”

To commemorate the milestone, a sesquicentennial committee of parishioners William “Bill” Becker, Gondringer, Mary Ann Haws, Bonnie Himsl-Kjenaas, Geralyn Nathe-Evans and Steve Salz are organizing a festival for the parish.

“We will have a celebration on the first or second Sunday in October,” Gondringer said. “Abbot John Klassen [O.S.B. of St. John’s Abbey] will be attending and we’ll be inviting all of the past pastors.”

The committee is hoping to reintroduce the church’s famous chicken noodle soup at the festival.

“The church was well-known for it,” Gondringer said.

In years past, ladies of the parish served homemade chicken noodle soup and chicken dinner for the church’s Fourth of July picnic, according to the church’s history book, “A Century of Sacrifice and Prayer.” The soup was also served at the church’s annual bazaar.

The committee is also posting weekly trivia questions about the parish history and events.

More details on the festival will be released as plans are finalized.

Church beginnings

Many of the families in the Avon area have strong ties to the parish since its founding.

“I’m the fifth generation in my family to be part of this parish,” Gondringer said. “I’m proud of the fact that we’ve been here since the 1880s and other families can say that, too.”

The parish began in 1869 when 10 families applied to St. John’s Abbey for a priest. Prior to this, families traveled to St. Joseph for church services.

Rev. Benedict Haindl, O.S.B., was the first priest for the parish. Services were held every month in a wagon shop owned by N.S. Keppers, where school was also taught.

As more families settled in Avon, the parish grew and the need for a church building was imminent.

In 1876, the foundation for the first church was constructed on the parcel it currently stands on. The frame was finished two years later.

Over time, new additions were made to accommodate the growing parish, including a two-story brick veneered rectory in 1901, a school in 1910, and a new cemetery in 1919.

“The old St. Benedict’s cemetery is located on the south side of the freeway [I-94],” Gondringer said.

The parish rented out the school building for a number of years to Avon School District (now Albany School District).

“We had a good relationship with the school district when they rented it out,” Gondringer said.

In 1928, the church that stands today was erected for $55,316.90. Rev. Gilbert Winkelman, O.S.B. was the architect.

“It’s basilica-style, so it’s more of a simpler church,” Gondringer said.

The gathering space, built at the front of the church entrance, was constructed in 1997.

The simplistic, modest design of the church lends opportunity for its unique pieces to shine through, including a painted glass window above the main entry, greeting parishioners as they walk in, and a wooden statue of St. Benedict, the parish patron, displayed in the gathering space. The statue was made out of a 200-year-old white oak tree trunk by Mark Kurtz of Avon.

Inside the church, the original school bell occupies the back-left corner. The altar, pulpit and baptismal font in the sanctuary are made of gneiss, a high grade, metamorphic rock with distinct banding. The front of the tabernacle is from the former church that once stood where the current one is now.

The parish has seen many changes over the years. The more recent is a collaboration between the Seven Dolors Catholic Church in Albany, the Church of St. Martin and St. Anthony Catholic Church, beginning July 1. The four parishes make up the Albany Area Catholic Community.

Clustering of parishes happened throughout the Diocese with the intent to share resources, in response to the declining number of priests and Catholic population.

Each parish, however, will remain independent from one another.

St. Benedict’s parish is vibrant, Gondringer said, with many young families actively involved in volunteer work, ensuring the building and grounds are maintained.

“Members of the congregation are doing more of the administrative work as well as monitoring repair and upkeep of parish facilities, which used to be done by the pastor,” Gondringer said.

Another activity the parish has to bring people together is a free-will offering community meal, once a week, from September to early May.

“It’s rewarding to do the community meals,” Gondringer said. “You’re part of an organization that’s much bigger than you are and because of that, you can make a larger positive impact in the lives of others.”

As families reminisce and celebrate the past 150 years, they also look forward to the future generations who will continue to be active members of the church and continue the legacy.